Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP)— now in its second year—is riddled with multiple problems that some beneficiaries fear could hit crop output this farming season.
The challenges exposed through a toll-free number  established by the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat), were also confirmed during a field tour of some centres. Csat is using the number to receive and manage diverse complaints or grievances from local communities on social injustices.
Csat executive director Willy Kambwandira, in an interview this week, said ranking high on the list of complaints is how AIP is riddled with challenges that are thwarting government’s efforts to provide Malawians with cheap inputs.
He observed that the complaints include vendors buying national identity cards from beneficiaries to access the AIP materials; some chiefs demanding money from the elderly or the sick to issue them with authorisation letters to access the inputs and some Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) depots running out of AIP materials for too long.
Others are congestion, insufficient selling points, lack of resources for agricultural offices to monitor the programme, government failing to load money in some beneficiaries’ IDs, thus making them invalid entries.
Kambwandira said: “Several district commissioners and agricultural officers across the country have corroborated that these complaints rank high on the list of challenges the programme is facing.”
He said the grievances were more prevalent in Mulanje, Thyolo and Machinga. This forced the organisation to undertake a monitoring field visit to some of the centres where the complaints originated in the three districts.
Through the monitoring tour last week, which focused on Admarc depots, Csat and Weekend Nation discovered that while farmers were already in their fields, none of the depots visited had both NPK and Urea fertilisers.
In addition, while some depots have separately been receiving either Urea or NPK, others, like Nsuludzi Market which operates at Liwonde Admarc, had been receiving only NPK since it was opened on November 15.
It is recommended that to maximise maize yields, the basal dressing should be applied either at the time of planting or not later than seven days after planting.
Csat and Weekend Nation also established that centres with stock faced network challenges and a shortage of workforce, forcing beneficiaries to spend several days to access the commodities. Most markets have one sales officer.
Almost all selling points we visited, including Mwamadi Admarc in Mulanje, where planting in the area was in full swing, had full stocks of hybrid maize seeds because beneficiaries have not started buying the commodity.
Most AIP beneficiaries at the centres confirmed they have opted to plant recycled local maize seeds instead of the AIP seeds because it is high-priced.
There are four types of AIP seeds, namely SC 403, also known as Kanyani selling at K5 635 per five kilogramme (kg) pack, SC 301 or Kalulu, going at K4 635 per five kg, SC 529 also known as Mbidzi, which is selling at K5 135 per five kg, while SC 627 or Mkango is selling at K5 635 per five kg pack.
As of last week, the cumulative redemption sales of the affordable inputs stood at around 75 metric tonnes, representing about 20 percent.
Assistant agriculture extension development coordinator for Mulanje Boma Extension Planning Area (EPA) Ella Nthenda Maneka observed that the manner in which the fertiliser was being disbursed in the area would affect production.
“Instead of buying NPK, which is for basal dressing, farmers are now buying Urea [for top dressing] because it is the only fertiliser available in many centres. Sadly, they will take time to acquire NPK,” she complained.
Maneka also complained of erratic network which she noted would result in some beneficiaries failing to purchase the fertiliser because the workload in selling points keeps increasing.
“It takes a lot of time to scan just one ID. For instance, there are about 180 villages to benefit from Mulanje Boma Admarc alone, but the centre is only able to assist two villages per day.”
Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu acknowledged the challenges, but said they were working with various stakeholders such as district councils, members of Parliament and Admarc to rectify them.
But Kambwandira attributed the challenges to poor planning and corruption in the public service, which he said could be a deliberate ploy to manipulate the programme.
“There are some people within government who are benefiting from the rotten system; hence, deliberately making sure that the systems collapse.”
Kambwandira encouraged local communities to remain vigilant and report any abuse of the programme to authorities.
Unlike in previous seasons when farmers would suffer in silence, most of them have now been empowered through various initiatives such as the toll-free line and are demanding transparency and accountability in the management of AIP.
The toll-free line, which was launched in August this year, is part of a multi-sector demand-driven social accountability project Csat is implementing with support from GIZ’s Public Finance Management Programme.
President Lazarus Chakwera launched this year’s AIP on October 16 2021 and is expected to benefit 3.7 million smallholder farming households with an allocation of K140.2 billion.